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What is the Average Salary of a CFO?

The Wall Street Journal published a list of the five highest-paid CFO’s late last year. The list cited high power executives, including Safra Catz at Oracle Corp. ($108.3 million), Ruth M. Porat at Alphabet Inc. ($47.3 million), Luca Maestri at Apple Inc. ($26.5 million), Michael Fleisher at Wayfair Inc. ($23.6 million), and John P. Nallen at 21st Century Fox Inc. ($20.8 million). These numbers are a far cry from the national average CFO salary. According to Payscale, the average CFO will receive a salary of $133,000.00. 

Regardless of the total dollar amount, however, we must delineate salary from total compensation. As the complexities of company management expand, so too do the kinds of rewards. Total compensation is an umbrella term that encompasses both a base salary as well as additional benefits, bonuses, stock shares (in publicly traded companies), and perks. 

Average CFO Salary
Average CFO Salary

Cash bonuses are often commission-based or tied to specific performance benchmarks while perks come in the form of golden handcuffs or golden parachutes, which incentivize an executive to stay for a particular amount of time or guarantee them financial compensation upon the end of their tenure respectively. General Electric’s Carolina Dybeck Happe holds an $8 million golden handcuff agreement the conglomerate and Stanley O’Neal, Merrill Lynch’s former CEO, famously pocketed $161.5 million from his golden parachute agreement. 

How do you develop a competitive and compelling CFO compensation package that will bring the best, most qualified talent to your company? The team here at Cowen Partners Executive Search will breakdown the most essential, key factors to consider: 

Cowen Partners Shawn Cole
Shawn Cole, President

Companies and Commerce are Not Equal

Location, location, location. 

The age-old real estate saying holds true in the case of understanding and allocating CFO compensation. While CFO paychecks are inexorably intertwined with the broader company structure, current financial status, and trajectory, geographic location makes a tangible impact on their salary- just as it does for any other company employee. The regional differences in the cost of living and economic opportunity correlate to CFO salary. 

To put this into context, a CFO in Keya Paha, Nebraska, can expect the lowest CFO salary in the country at $284,250 and a compensation package totaling $354,259. An average CFO in San Francisco, however, needs nearly double that salary to live and work. The average San Francisco CFO salary rises in proportion with the cost of living and comes in at $451,070 with total compensation of $724,006.

The price variations based on geographic location may or may not decrease as we resume commerce in a post-pandemic world. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that he’s letting employees work from home forever, even after COVID-19 is eradicated. These kinds of financial-saving decisions might close the regional pay gaps in CFO compensation packages, should they be adopted by other organizations. Cowen Executive Partners stays abreast of developments like these and evolves our CFO consulting services to accommodate shifts in the market. 

Beyond physical location, each company has a unique approach to financial structure, commerce, success, work ethic, and values. We take all of these ideas into consideration when matching CFOs to open positions, but the financial structure is the second major determinant of a CFO’s compensation. 

Variations in CFO Salaries Based on Company Structure

Average CFO Salary

While salary.com cites the median base salary of a CFO in the United States as $362,030, and the median total compensation package (including bonus, healthcare, and retirement) as $506,386, each CFO is compensated differently depending on the company in question. Non-profits, private companies, and public companies all compensate their executives differently and in proportion to their previous and potential earnings. 

According to CFO.com, the average cash compensation for a CFO in a private company with less than $20MM in annual revenue is $194,354. For companies with $21-$99MM in yearly revenue, CFOs make an average of $237,983 in base salary. Tack on benefits and bonuses, and you can expect to shell out somewhere between $225,000-$275,000, depending on business size. 

CFOs of public companies make about 45% more than their private company counterparts, with their average salary coming in at about $267,976. CFOs of non-profits, in contrast, take home an average of $133,576 per year. 

Simplify and Expedite the CFO Hiring Process with Cowen Partners Executive Search

Finding and hiring the right CFO is an arduous process that demands individualized attention, thorough research, and the right connections. In fact, a 2015 survey by Jobvite showed that while average jobs are filled in 43 days, it takes an average of 71 days to fill a C-level position and 76 days for a position with “director” or “vice president” in the title.

Why? Because a CFO creates a vital partnership with company management and cultivates leadership within a company hierarchy to develop financial policies and guide an organization towards success in the marketplace. Plenty of companies opt for an interim CFO service and take their time with the recruiting process. However, time doesn’t guarantee a smart, successful CFO hire.  

Cowen Partners Executive Search is a leading CFO search and consulting firm with years of experience and expertise recruiting CFOs. We are committed to understanding your company culture, needs, and financial goals to fulfill and facilitate the CFO hiring process. We have hundreds of top-talent connections and a tireless attention to detail that helps companies find the right CFO in a fraction of the time without significant company disruptions.